Outside agency to investigate new misconduct claim against U of U police in McCluskey murder

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UPDATE 5/19/2020: The Utah Department of Public Safety has agreed to conduct an independent investigation of the U of U police department’s handling of allegations against a former officer.


SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – University of Utah police chief is addressing new allegations of misconduct by the department in the case of slain student Lauren McCluskey.  

The latest claims allege that a former U of U officer investigating her report kept and shared explicit photos of McCluskey that was meant for evidence.

RELATED: Timeline of Lauren McCluskey’s murder and events following her death

McCluskey was shot and killed nearly two years ago by a man she had briefly dated. She went to the university police department saying her would be murderer was trying to extort her with photos.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports Officer Miguel Deras allegedly downloaded the photos to his personal phone and bragged about them to other officers.

RELATED: Lauren McCluskey’s parents respond to latest accusations against former U of U police officer

University of Utah Police Chief Rodney Chatman said the department held an internal investigation last year but given the new allegations he has asked for an external investigation.

 “Once this report is completed we will release it publicly. In the interim, I have placed individuals responsible for the original investigation on administrative leave pending the results of this new review,” said Chatman in a statement late Monday evening.

READ THE CHIEF CHATMAN’S FULL STATEMENT:

Recent reporting by The Salt Lake Tribune cites unnamed police officers who claim a former U officer inappropriately shared a photo or photos of Lauren McCluskey that were used by her murderer to extort her. If this is true, it is a serious breach of trust and a violation of professional law enforcement standards and the officer must be held accountable by the Utah Department of Public Safety’s Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST).

It is inexcusable for a police officer to inappropriately share or discuss photos or information provided by a victim seeking justice. This is an especially egregious offense on a college campus where young women are already reluctant to report sexual assault to police for fear of not being believed or no action being taken if they report a crime.

An internal investigation into this case by the University of Utah Police Department was initiated following allegations brought to the university by a Tribune reporter last year. The report, which was completed prior to my joining the department as chief, found that a photo was shared in the context of a shift-change briefing. Prior to the Tribune inquiry, the incident was never reported to the police department’s command staff or a campus entity that might have investigated it.

However, after personally reviewing the report today and consulting with the university’s chief safety officer, I have ordered a new investigation to be completed by an outside agency. This is due to the seriousness of the accusation, concerns I have with the thoroughness of the report, and my desire to avoid any perception of bias.

In addition to interviews with current police department employees, the review will include outreach to former department employees who were working at the time this alleged incident occurred.

I know this announcement will come as a disappointment to many in the community. Statements by the university over the past 24 hours have leaned heavily on the results of the first internal review. However, if my police department is to regain credibility in the eyes of the community it serves this new review must be completed swiftly and with respect for both the students we serve and for Lauren McCluskey and her family. 

Once this report is completed we will release it publicly. At that time, I will take questions and determine what, if any, personnel actions may be required based on our findings. In the interim, I have placed individuals responsible for the original investigation on administrative leave pending the results of this new review.

In the time since Lauren McCluskey’s murder this department has made extensive changes, in both policy and process, in how cases are investigated and how digital files are handled. Our current process provides a secure way for victims to share digital files—without ever requiring them to be hosted on an officer’s cellphone or computer. This was not the case at the time of Lauren’s murder.

Given the fact that I was chief of police at the University of Dayton when Lauren was murdered, my ability to speak to past actions at the University of Utah is limited, but I can attest to the important work that our department is doing today to protect a vibrant campus community comprised of 32,000 students, 40,000 employees, a bustling academic health system, museums, performing arts and sports venues, and countless programs that bring the community to our campus.

Some have asked why universities have police departments at all. Nationally, a university-governed campus police department, overseen by a campus chief safety officer and a police chief, is a best practice for a campus the U’s size because these departments can provide local, customized, campus-focused security. That is what we are committed to doing and it is something we fear would be lost if policing of our campus was integrated into a larger outside law enforcement entity, with multiple constituencies and additional priorities.

When Lauren McCluskey was murdered, my team at the University of Dayton like many other campus police departments, followed the case through media reports in an effort to learn and improve our own practices. I bring that experience and focus to the University of Utah, where my team and I are implementing best practices in safety and striving to rebuild the trust of our community. I recognize this will take time, but I want to assure the campus community that when the calls come, my officers will respond. And they will do so with the respect and professionalism expected from all Utah law enforcement professionals.

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